By early August, professional triathletes turn their attention to the races that make or break their competitive seasons: the major championships in September and October. 2017 is made even more complicated by the addition of ITU Long Distance World Championships, held this year in Penticton, B.C. and in the crosshairs of no fewer than five of the Wattie Ink. pros. Races at this point in the season serve to provide sharpening sessions for 70.3 World Championships and Kona, and can also lend some respite from the training designed to bring each athlete to her or his peak fitness. Heather Jackson (prepping for Kona) and Joe Gambles (ITU Long Distance Worlds and Kona) headed to Benton Harbor, Michigan this past Sunday to see how their respective preparations were proceeding.
"I've already started building towards Kona with some longer training days," said Jackson about the race. "And so you never know how the body will feel when you ask it for a shorter, more intense effort like a 70.3." Early on the signs were positive, as Jackson exited the choppy, non-wetsuit swim ("perfect Kona practice!") in the main pack of competitors, about thirty seconds behind swim leader Robin Pomeroy. From that point, HJ took over on the bike, quickly moving to the front of the race. Behind, though, newcomer Alissa Doehla—who has two 70.3 podia under her belt this year at Eagleman and Racine—hung tough, only surrendering 2:38 to Jackson. And in third off the bike was Ironman Texas Champion Jodie Robertson who, like Doehla, comes from a professional running background. Would the gap be enough?
"I was running scared for 13 miles," Jackson reports. "I felt strong but not super speedy, so I was grateful to hold them off in the end." Despite worrying, HJ managed the fastest run split of the day by one second, eventually taking the win by 2:54. "For me, it was a great day within my Kona build to push for 4+ hours."
And over on the men's side, Jackson's coach Joe Gambles was himself pushing for a result and to prepare for his upcoming championships. On a day that saw Andrew Starykowicz go wire-to-wire, Gambles played a strong patient game, coming out of the water in 7th, about twenty seconds clear of a chase pack and less than a minute behind Starykowicz. The Tasmanian joined a chase pack of six that included Jackson Laundry, Eric Limkemann, Kieran Roche, James Hadley, and Kevin Ryan. Behind, Matt Hanson labored mightily to cross the gap. Up ahead, Starykowicz blazed through the course, eventually setting a mark of 1:58 for the 56-mile bike course.
Out on the run, the win looked to be Starykowicz, barring a major explosion. Gambles moved up to second and focused on holding off Hanson, who came off the bike about two minutes down and quickly rattled off several miles in the 5:30-5:40/mile range. Gambles held on until a little before the halfway point, but surrendered his lead over Hanson, who would go on to post a 1:10:55 half-marathon to Gambles' very respectable 1:15:08. Nevertheless, it's another podium for Smokin' Joe Gambles, who has quietly amassed one of his best seasons yet in 2017. Good signs as he heads into the Championship Rounds of the year.